Rethinking Corporate Social Investment in the Education Sector

By Garth Duncan, Managing Executive: Schools, Education and CSI at RentWorks

Corporate Social Investment (CSI) has an important role to play in South Africa in terms of bringing about meaningful transformation and addressing the country’s pressing social needs. Developing the education sector is a vital part of the foundation of successful transformation, which is why many organisations direct their CSI efforts at helping schools.

Many government and corporate business projects have sought to assist schools in their IT efforts by donating IT equipment to schools where it is desperately needed, but equipment has been stolen or computers have become virus-ridden and ended up as paperweights because there hasn’t been any technical support provided.

Corporate dumping may leave the donor company feeling like they’ve done a good deed, but the situation remains unchanged for the recipient schools. Businesses need to find a more sustainable way of rolling out CSI projects in the education sector. They need to understand that the value is not in the units they’re donating – it’s in the support systems needed to keep those units functioning. Dumping IT equipment without any long-term support is like giving a car to someone who doesn’t have a driver’s licence or the money to pay for fuel. It’s not a wise investment.

By providing the IT equipment as well as the funds to supply the back-end, companies can make a more sustainable difference and give a hand-up instead of a hand-out. This approach is a win-win situation.

For example, SANPARKS uses its one percent levy on accommodation and activity bookings to aid communities around its parks, including assisting schools with their IT needs. In 2012, they plan to work with between eight and 10 schools. This not only benefits the students, but the community as a whole. Many of the schools will open up the computer labs on Saturdays and teach basic computer skills to adults from the community. Buy-in from the community means the programme becomes sustainable, and the company also boosts its reputation and benefits from the marketing opportunities provided.

Similarly, Air Liquide sponsors four schools in Alrode with funds for their IT equipment rental programmes. These schools run internship programmes teaching matriculants basic computer skills. The students are then placed within Air Liquide, creating great opportunities for community upliftment.

Price Waterhouse Coopers is also sponsoring a school with a fully supported, maintained, insured and warranteed computer lab for a period of three years.

By helping schools based in their local communities, large companies in sectors like the mining industry can make a lasting difference in terms of socio-economic development without spending huge sums of money. Businesses have to replace their used IT equipment at the end of its lifecycle, so by donating their computers and investing the relatively small sums needed to assist the school with the necessary support systems, they are able to make a massive contribution to the communities in which they operate.

The same could be true of government departments. Imagine how many schools SARS could assist by donating their used IT equipment and the funds to sponsor a rental programme that would assist in setting up complete end-to-end IT laboratory solutions in schools.

Aiding schools in this manner not only assists in addressing the major ICT challenges facing the education sector in South Africa, but also helps companies in meeting BEE targets in a way that really adds value to communities and empowers learners.

Government is striving to have every teacher equipped with a laptop by 2012 and each learner with a laptop by 2015. Corporate involvement, in terms of supplying used IT equipment and the funds to set up the required support services, could play a huge part in achieving this goal, and for about the quarter of the price of providing new equipment.